Controversies roil UCLA, Berkeley campuses
“Leaked emails reveal partnership between Hillel, PR firm,” read the headline on a story that made the front page of Wednesday’s Daily Bruin, the lively UCLA student newspaper.
The plotline for this story may seem a bit arcane for those not up-to-date on campus politics, but the central protagonist is Rabbi Aaron Lerner of UCLA Hillel. His focus, in his own words, is on “community organizing and reaching students on the periphery of Jewish life at UCLA.”
Earlier this year, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Students for Justice in Palestine asked the UCLA undergraduate student council to pressure the University of California administration into divesting from any companies that “profit from the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.”
The motion was narrowly rejected, but it is expected to resurface in the near future.
To prepare for such a likelihood, Lerner sought advice from various contacts, including the 30 Point Strategies public relations firm. The main conclusions reached in an exchange of emails was to portray BDS advocates as unrepresentative of student sentiment, to focus on the large majority of UCLA’s 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students who know next to nothing about Israel, and try to hold media coverage about the whole controversy to a minimum.
Ruling on campus hate
Over the past decade, as anti-Israel demonstrations have become a regular occurrence on many U.S. college campuses, Jewish nonprofits and individuals have turned to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for relief, and with some success. They convinced the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), for one, to investigate anti-Israel speech and actions at three University of California campuses, arguing that such speech is tantamount to anti-Semitism and violates the civil rights of Jewish students.
Yet some of those investigations have remained open for years; none have found evidence of wrongdoing by the universities, and last week a coalition of civil rights groups led by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged the DOE to dismiss the still-open investigations.
In a letter sent to two DOE staff members on May 14, CAIR and seven other groups argued that the OCR investigations into anti-Israel speech and actions at UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have dragged on for too long, far longer than the office’s internal benchmark of 180 days. The letter also faults the OCR for not allowing Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students to have input into the investigations, which, these civil rights groups allege, has effectively quashed the students’ ability to express their political opinions about actions taken by Israel against the Palestinians.
A DOE spokesman acknowledged that some complex cases take the OCR longer than its internal goal of 180 days to resolve, and reaffirmed its position that rules for campus speech must be in line with the First Amendment. He declined to comment on any of the open investigations.
The coalition’s letter represents the latest salvo in a war over campus speech between the organizations purporting to represent Jewish and pro-Israel students and the groups claiming to speak on behalf of Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students. The result has so far been a perpetual stalemate, with advocates on each side claiming that the students on the other side are intimidating, marginalizing and silencing the students they represent.
Over the years, representatives on both sides have turned to lawmakers in Sacramento and UC leaders in an effort to bolster their claims. But the matter before OCR is of particular importance, in part because, as a federal agency, its decision could have the most far-reaching impact.
At its core, the question facing OCR investigators is whether anti-Israel speech can be anti-Semitic and, as such, violate the civil rights of Jewish students.
Since 2004, when OCR first affirmed its policy of investigating allegations of discrimination against students who shared both ethnic and religious characteristics — including Jewish, Muslim and Sikh students — Jewish individuals and groups have filed complaints against a handful of universities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
By and large, the complaints focus on the way anti-Israel demonstrations and speeches on campus make Jewish students feel, and when OCR agreed to open investigations into a number of those complaints, advocates including the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which initiated two separate complaints against UC Irvine, heralded the decision as a partial acknowledgement of their claims’ validity.
But in 2007, DOE dismissed the ZOA’s first UC Irvine claim, and has not released decisions about either ZOA’s second claim against UC Irvine (which OCR has been investigating since 2008) or the two other open investigations.
CAIR and its allies argued in their recent letter that by not resolving the complaints, OCR is “causing a profound chilling of student speech,” and they dispute the basic charge that anti-Israel speech could be anti-Semitic.
“While the DOE should thoroughly look into civil rights complaints, these allegations cross the line between protecting civil rights and targeting certain political views,” CAIR lead staff attorney Ameena Qazi said in a statement accompanying a text of the May 14 letter.
But Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who teaches Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz and who filed a Title VI complaint against her employer in 2009, argues that certain forms of anti-Israel speech do qualify as anti-Semitic under definitions adopted by the U.S. State Department and other official bodies. As such, -Rossman-Benjamin said the speech practiced by pro-Palestinian and Muslim students and student groups aren’t deserving of protection and wouldn’t be defended if they maligned another ethnic group.
“What happened to freedom of speech with the ‘Compton Cookout’?” Rossman-Benjamin asked, referring to a 2010 incident of anti-black racism by white fraternity brothers at UC San Diego that provoked investigations by both the DOE and the Department of Justice. “Who argued for their freedom of speech?
“I’m not trying to say anything about the response of the university to that,” Rossman-Benjamin continued. “I am trying to say that there is an egregious double standard that is discriminatory against Jewish students.”
Even as Rossman-Benjamin complains about certain forms of anti-Israel speech and demonstrations — including the “Apartheid Wall” that pro-Palestinian groups use to outline alleged human rights abuses by Israel — she herself has come under fire for comments. In a video posted on YouTube, Rossman-Benjamin appeared to suggest to an audience at a synagogue near Boston in June 2012 that students involved in pro-Palestinian activism on campuses have ties to terrorist groups.
“These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats,” Rossman-Benjamin said of groups like the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations.”
The UC Santa Cruz chapter of SJP took offense and posted more than a dozen videos of its members responding to Rossman-Benjamin’s comments. The group also initiated an online petition urging outgoing UC President Mark Yudof to condemn Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks, which has garnered more than 1,800 signatures.
Rossman-Benjamin has stood by her comments, which she said were taken out of context. In a manner typical of the way each side’s claims in this debate often mirrors those of the other, Rossman-Benjamin said the SJP’s “campaign of defamation” is an attack on her own freedom of speech.
The debate has mobilized some more extreme groups on both sides — first and foremost, CAIR, which according to the Anti-Defamation League has offered “a platform to conspiratorial Israel-bashers and outright anti-Semites.” A local chapter of the anti-Islam organization ACT! for America — the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a hate group — recently urged its members to send letters supporting Rossman-Benjamin to UC President Yudof.
More moderate voices have remained silent. In 2011, when Kenneth Stern, a longtime staff member with the American Jewish Committeen (AJC), co-wrote a letter warning about the perils of restricting speech, Rossman-Benjamin and others protested, and the AJC backed off.
Stern declined to comment for this article, but his co-author, Cary Nelson, an English professor at University of Illinois and former president of the American Association of University Professors, described the argument that anti-Israel remarks are anti-Semitic in some as a “third rail” in academic discourse.
And even though Nelson, who is Jewish, has at times made that argument, provoking howls of protest from his peers, he cautioned against taking Rossman-Benjamin’s approach, calling the Title VI complaints a “a portmanteau of very different kinds of impulses with very different origins.”
“The solution to loathsome speech is more speech,” he said. “Trying to restrict hate speech on campus is certainly a mistake.”
Return to sender
I’ve never understood why they call a last-minute election ploy an “October Surprise,” other than the fact that it usually happens in, you know, October.
As a hard-fought election winds to a close in a divided country, campaigns will of course give their candidate that extra 1 percent or 2 percent push by any means necessary.
So I’m not surprised that someone in Washington is making it rain missiles on Waziristan in what has to be a last-ditch effort to attach the head of Osama bin Laden to Sen. John McCain’s belt loop.
I’m not surprised that vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin accused Sen. Barack Obama of making playdates with terrorists. Anyone who remembers the vitriolic rallies leading to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has to be disgusted by such incendiary words — but not surprised.
And I’m not shocked that now the Democrats are resurrecting the ghost of crooked banker and one-time McCain pal Charles Keating. Those aren’t surprises — those are what-did-you-expect?
But I am surprised that people who truly want to alert Americans to the dangers we all face from worldwide Islamic radicalism have chosen this month to politicize the issue.
The vehicle they are using is an effective work of agitprop documentary filmmaking called, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”
The one-hour film is an all-hits compilation about how violent Muslim fundamentalists are bent on using any means necessary to destroy the rest of us.
Yes, the movie lacks nuance. Its many valid claims against radical Islam sometimes bleed into blanket claims against all Muslims.
“It’s important to remember most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror,” reads a title card at the opening of the movie — just before an image of a man in a kaffiyeh pointing an automatic weapon at the viewer overwhelms the screen. In other words, this is not a sober “Frontline” special.
Some critics fear that as much as “Obsession” may inspire people, including moderate Muslims, to fight against the extremists, it might just as easily inspire non-Muslim extremists to lash out against all Muslims. An obsessive anti-“Obsession” campaign launched by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) accuses the film of “demonizing an entire community.”
I ran this concern by Tom Trento, a Florida-based businessman who told me he was so inspired after watching the movie upon its release in 2006 that he founded WatchObsession.com to help spread its gospel.
“Not one negative backlash with 20 million people seeing it,” Trento told me.
That might or might not be entirely true. Four days after the Dayton Daily News distributed copies of the “Obsession” DVD, two men sprayed a chemical toward a 10-year-old girl at a local Islamic center Police have said there is no evidence the act was a hate crime, but many Muslims there and elsewhere say “Obsession” incites such attacks.
What’s undeniable is that the movie is intended to rile people up and that its supporters believe it can be an effective tool in swaying the election.
In late September, copies of the DVD started showing up on people’s doorsteps, wrapped along with their morning paper in states that are the most hotly contested in this presidential election: Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.
An organization called The Clarion Fund paid for distribution, but denied the effort has anything to do with the presidential campaign. A Clarion spokesman told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that 28 million copies of the DVD were being distributed nationwide. The intent of the distribution, he said, was “not to sway voters’ opinions about the presidential candidates.”
That, of course, is absolute, pure, 100 percent BS. Trento, refreshingly, didn’t take that tack.
“I’m doing a major educational outreach effort with this movie that will continue long after the election,” he said. “But certainly I have a goal to wake people up and have them vote intelligently for our national security. Who does that mean at the top of the ticket? Me personally, Tom Trento, I would vote for John McCain.”
I asked him if that’s what he hopes others will want to do after watching “Obsession.”
“Yes,” Trento said. “My goal would be that a person fully informed will conclude that John McCain is the best choice.”
This, then, is the dangerous ground backers of “Obsession” are treading: Turning a serious if flawed movie and a life-and-death issue into a partisan campaign ploy.
A recent Fox News poll found that 88 percent of Americans agree that radical Islam is a serious threat — you’d be hard pressed to find another issue that so many Americans agree on. The “Obsession” campaign causes unnecessary dissent and division when what we need is united and thoughtful action.
The fact that “Obsession” and the Clarion Fund draw financial support from a network of overtly Christian, Jewish and pro-Israel activists doesn’t exactly help either.
The Clarion Fund and Aish HaTorah are headed by twin Israeli-Canadian brothers, Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. Several newspaper accounts report that the two groups appear to be connected, as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish HaTorah, the Orthodox Jewish outreach organization.
An Aish spokesperson has denied a connection, but said that individuals affiliated with Aish may be involved in Clarion on their own.
Scroll the Web sites promoting “Obsession,” follow their links, and soon you are in a world of vigilante “Minutemen,” abortion clinic protesters, Creationists, End Timers, Greater Israelites and Islam-bashers. One click away from Trento’s Web site is another whose headline reads, “Allah is nothing but a pagan moon-god.”
All these folks have a right to their opinions, but we can’t afford for the struggle against Islamic fascism to get mired in this country’s political, cultural and religious divides.
If you want to know what it’s like to get bounced around in that muck, ask my friend Howard Gordon. When “Obsession” first came out, Gordon, a writer and executive producer of the television series, “24,” agreed to write a laudatory blurb for the producers.
But last month, Gordon decided he didn’t want to boost a movie he had at least mixed feelings about, based, in part, on its use as a partisan political weapon.
“While I remain committed to the film’s essential message — that the hate-mongering promoted by radical Islamism presents a real threat to Western values of tolerance and pluralism — I also appreciate that the goal of co-existence and tolerance is not being served by films like ‘Obsession,'” Gordon wrote in his public retraction.
To read the reactions to Gordon’s simple change of mind, you’d think he was the one with the machine gun and the kaffiyeh.
At some point, you’d think “Obsession’s” backers would realize they’re not doing a cause most of us believe in any good by turning off the likes of me, you or Howard Gordon.
“It is too bad,” Trento told me of Gordon’s retraction. “I mean, I love his show.”
Prager; CAIR; Gibson; The Boot!
It is getting somewhat boring to read yet another letter in The Jewish Journal from such a disingenuous character as Hussam Ayloush (Letters, Dec. 1). Typical of Ayloush and other CAIR officials, he engages only in ad hominem smears and refuses to deal with the substantive claims. One only needs to do a little research to uncover his obvious fabrications.
First, it is ironic that he says that I “resort to deception” by stating that CAIR has engaged in anti-Semitism in the past. It is notable here that Ayloush conveniently fails to address the fact that neo-Nazi William Baker has been invited to speak at several CAIR events — whose presence at those events Ayloush himself has defended.
Also, Ayloush categorically lies when he states that “CAIR has no connection, direct or indirect, to the event he referred to in New York” in which radical Islamist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim made anti-Semitic statements and led the crowd in an anti-Semitic song. In fact, CAIR’s name is listed on the event announcement, along with several other groups including the Holy Land Foundation, as a co-sponsor. The event itself was sponsored by the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was hit with a $156 million civil judgment — along with the Holy Land Foundation and several other entities — by a federal court in Illinois in a case in which the family of a murdered victim of Hamas terrorism successfully sued U.S.-based Hamas front organizations.
Maybe the problem here is one of language and definition. Perhaps, to Ayloush, neo-Nazis and songs lyrics such as, “No to the Jews, descendants of the Apes” are not anti-Semitic.
Investigative Project on Terrorism
Ed. Note: The Journal has invited Steven Emerson and Hussam Ayloush to continue their exchange in an e-mail forum at jewishjournal.com. This letter will be posted there awaiting Mr. Ayloush's response.
Hussan Ayloush has managed to manipulate and use The Jewish Journal as his mouthpiece to discredit Steve Emerson. I wonder if any of the Islamic papers would allow such use of their papers for us to discredit Ayloush.
Steven Emerson has been warning the government about radical Islam long before anyone knew about CAIR and Ayloush. Had our government listened to the warnings that Emerson made them aware of instead of trying to appear politically correct, or just naive, more than 3,000 people would be alive today. We would have been prepared for the promotion of Sharia law, and accommodations made for Islam that are not made for either Judaism or Christianity in the United States.
Your paper has allowed an apologist for terror in the United States as well as in Israel to use your pages to promote his agenda, propaganda and lies. This is just shameful.
Allyson Rowen Taylor
Prager and the Quran
I don’t know which is worse; Dennis Prager’s virulent intolerance and Islamaphobia or his pathetic ignorance of what our “American values” really are (“Prager Opposition to Quran Congress Rite Draws Fire,” Dec. 8). Surely even he would agree that the U.S. Constitution reflects cherished “American values” to which we can all adhere.
Article VI, on the very topic of the oath of office, says, and I quote in full to give the context: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
How dare Prager set himself above the Constitution, and claim that anyone who does not take an oath on the Bible can’t serve in Congress?It’s Prager that shouldn’t serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council if he does not share the American value of religious free exercise protected by the First Amendment.
Stephen F. Rohde
The writer is a constitutional lawyer
I wish the journal would do their homework on Keith Ellison. If you simply Google “Ellison Jews” you would find that he defended a colleague’s right to say “the most racist white people are Jews”; that he sat silently while Khalid Muhammand spewed a racist rant; that he defended in writing Farakhan’s not being anti-Semitic; that he his funded by CAIR, a known front group for Hamas. It’s most disturbing that Jewish organizations would defend this guy without knowing the truth.
Dear Jon Drucker, your suggestion that we sneak into seeing Mel Gibson’s movie “Apocalypto” although we paid to see a different movie is bad advice (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto’ Now,” Dec 8). It reminded me of last year when I read that Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, had snuck into a free preview of “The Passion” without being invited.
As a Jew, I was totally embarrassed by Foxman’s actions. If you want to see the movie, act like a responsible adult and pay the price. You will be providing a better example for everyone, Jews and non-Jews. Leave “skipping” for the kids.
I feel reassured to learn that measures are taken to keep sexual predators, evil opportunists and other dark characters away from shul (“Getting Kicked Out of Shul,” Dec. 8). The safe environment this creates makes for a more spiritual experience without, as a single woman, having to fear for my safety.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the rabbis for taking on the responsibility of doing what it takes to create the safe and loving environment we enjoy at shul, in addition to their already demanding work.
Beth Jacob Congregation
Your front-page article of Dec 8 shows that we Jews continue to be our own worst enemy — and sadly, The Jewish Journal is leading the way in making us look nasty or foolish to our own community and certainly to the general L.A. community (“Getting Kicked Out of Shul).
Israeli-Palestinian Confederation; CAIR; Borat; Elections; More JewQ questions
Josef Avesar says of the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs that “each side demands that the other relinquish crucial aspects of its identity,” and that therefore, some form of confederation would be a “pragmatic” solution to their problems (“Mideast Solution: A Confederation,” Nov. 3). Both Avesar’s diagnosis and prescription are wrong.
Palestinians aim to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, not merely to change some aspects of its identity. Israelis only demand that Palestinian Arabs relinquish this aim, not their identity.
Avesar envisages Israel and the Palestinian Authority in time relinquishing their power to what “will become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems.” There is a simple term for this — binationalism, something which would see Israel gradually dismantled and Jews turned into a minority in a greater Palestinian state.
Avesar’s confederation scheme is therefore simply a program for foisting a creeping binational scheme on Israel.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America
It is curious how Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), defines the terms “extremist” and anti-Semitic (Letters, Nov. 10).
He claims his organization merely “denounce[s] human rights violations committed by Israel.” But in fact, Ayloush himself is known to use the term “Zionazi” to refer to Israelis and compare Zionism to Nazism, once writing in an e-mail, “Indeed, the Zionazis are a bunch of nice people; just like their Nazi brethren! It is just that the world keeps making up lies about them! It is so unfair.”Ayloush cavalierly accuses me of engaging in “guilt by association” but avoids comment on CAIR’s involvement in the promotion of anti-Semitism.
He does not dispute the virulently anti-Semitic language used by Wagdy Ghoneim at a CAIR-sponsored event, in which he led the audience in a song with the lyrics, “No to the Jews, descendants of the apes.”
Additionally, CAIR has invited neo-Nazi William Baker to speak at various conferences, whose presence at such events Ayloush has defended. How dare people infer anti-Semitism and extremism from such incidents.
As for Ayloush’s claim that CAIR “defend(s) the civil rights of unpopular individuals,” such defenses typically involve attacking any terrorism investigation or asset forfeiture as, for example, an “‘anti-Muslim witchhunt’ promoted by the pro-Israel lobby in America.” (One should note that the individuals involved in that company have been convicted of providing material support to Hamas and violating sanctions imposed on state sponsors of terrorism, receiving sentences up to seven years in prison).
Of course, Ayloush himself responds to any criticism of his organization in the typical fashion employed by all CAIR officials: smearing anyone who reports on uncomfortable and disquieting facts by labeling them an “Islamophobe” or “anti-Muslim.” Ayloush’s own record of engaging in and tolerating anti-Semitic viewpoints speaks for itself.
Investigative Project on Terrorism
Ed. Note: Hussam Ayloush’s previous response is online at www.jewishjournal.com/forum, where the two men are invited to continue their exchange.
I believe that your article on the Modern Orthodox/Charedi split underplays the differences on the ground between the two communities (“Two Neighborhoods Reveal Orthodox Community’s Fault Lines,” Nov. 10). By interviewing only moderate rabbis (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the local Charedi apologist, far to the left of his colleagues) and few congregants, one gets an overly rosy picture. I believe more animosity and derision of the other exists.
Modern institutions will find more like-minded teachers and clergy will not respond to Charedi book-bannings, and Charedim will have to look elsewhere to fund their causes.
Name withheld by request
Steven Rosen’s review of “Borat” was right on target in regard to the satirical elements of the anti-Semitism depicted in the movie. However, Rosen failed to comment on the fact that when Borat spoke to his cohort/producer, Bagatov, he did so in Hebrew. My husband and I thought this added to the satire in that a “flagrant anti-Semite” would never even know lashon Hakodesh. Kudos to Sacha Baron Cohen!
Nancy Cooper Federman
A better approach than making a car that gets 100 miles per gallon is to develop one that rarely uses gasoline (“Size Matters,” Nov. 10). A plug-in hybrid would do most driving based on battery power from being plugged into an outlet and switch to gasoline when the batteries are depleted.
I’ve read about alternate approaches for storing energy in a car. These include using flywheels or compressed air. The “Tel Aviv Project” that you propose does not have to limit itself to improving gas mileage or batteries.
Loss of Interest
Rob Eshman’s editorial caused me to stop and think. He poses the question: Why is the attendance at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities so low (“Size Matters,” Nov. 10). Why only 3,000? Why not 25,000? After all, Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish population in the United States.
I can offer an explanation for the apparent lack of interest among our Jewish community. Certainly I speak only for myself, but I believe what I say would apply to many others like me.
Until several years ago, I was very interested in the Jewish community, but then I experienced the workings of The Jewish Federation, with its abandonment of the Jewish Community Centers and self-aggrandizement, and the workings of the Greater L.A. [Federation] administration. Then I realized that our leaders are more inclined to cushion their own portfolios, rather than the good of the Jewish community, and too many leaders suffer from exaggerated egos.
So today, instead of donating to the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, I have found more worthy causes, where more of my contribution goes to the charity and not to the leaders. Very likely, my perception has rubbed off on others with whom I relate. And perhaps many other have the same opinion.
P.S. I enjoyed reading about Theodore Von Karman (“Jewry’s Role in Human Advancement,” advertisement). What few people know about him is that he played a key role in the development of the armor systems helping to save lives in Iraq and elsewhere. In 1956, as the program manager at Aerojet General Corp. for an Army program to develop advanced personnel armor concepts, I was fortunate to have Dr. Von Karman as a consultant for my program.
Cluster bombs; again with the ‘Dumb Jews;’ Democrats vs Republicans one more time; Jews in Space!
Calling for condemnation of the IDF’s use of cluster bombs against Hezbollah would degrade Israel’s ability to defend herself, thus encouraging Hezbollah to again employ their vast rocket and missile inventory to terrorize and murder Israeli civilians and to damage Israel’s economy (“Cluster Silence,” Oct. 31).
When the IDF’s attempt to neutralize Hezbollah’s missiles with precision guided explosives failed to reduce Hezbollah’s rate of fire against Israel’s civilian population, the only alternative approaches remaining were area suppression weapons, such as airborne cluster bombs.
Lt. Col. U.S. Army Reserve (ret.)
My brother says you are a coward. You sit in Los Angeles and give morality lessons to those who risked their lives every day during the Lebanon War. If the choice is between your children being killed by Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets and the enemy’s children being killed by Israel’s cluster bombs, what do you prefer?
My brother and his family — as well as thousands of Israelis in the north — were in danger whether they sat in their homes or went out to get food. They are among the Israelis who thank the IDF for dropping those cluster bombs on Hezbollah, their supporters and future Hezbollah members.
Interesting, you’ve received a torrent of protests against your “Dumb Jews” headline, but judging by the Nov. 3 Letters, minimal reaction to your courageous “Cluster Silence” editorial. Don’t know what that says about Jewish sensitivities, but where I come from, two wrongs don’t make a right, and if the innocent on their side are killed or maimed in the course of protecting the innocent on our side, then we who know better should be the first to admit the shame.
The real problem is Israel’s survival — nothing less. Bomblets spread throughout southern Lebanon in the recent imbroglio are a lesson that Israel can make life very miserable for all Israel’s enemies, no matter what. The bomblets say, “Never Again.”
Truth About CAIR
It is perplexing to see an extremist, anti-Muslim voice make the pages of The Jewish Journal (“L.A. Times Violates Ethics in Council Race,” Oct. 20).
Steven Emerson’s real aim is for the Jewish community to shun Council on American-Islamic Relations’s (CAIR) , solely on the basis of guilt by association. CAIR is the largest advocacy group representing American Muslims, with hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of members. It is ludicrous of Emerson to hold CAIR responsible for the alleged infractions of former affiliates acting on their own volitions.
Emerson also attacks CAIR for defending the civil rights of unpopular individuals. Organizations are judged on the quality of their work and substance of their statements. Like the ACLU, we, as a civil rights organization, are bound to defend the rights of all Americans, even those perceived to hold unacceptable views.
CAIR (www.cair.com) is a human rights organization. As such, it is our duty and Islamic obligation to speak out against human rights abuses, whatever the faith of the victims or the perpetrators. We recently issued a statement against a predominantly Muslim country, Tunisia, for banning Muslim women from wearing the head scarf. We have regularly been critical of our government’s handling of the Iraq War. Yet, we are not labeled anti-American, anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. However, when we denounce human rights violations committed by Israel, we are quickly criticized as being anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic.
People of all faiths must challenge and repudiate extremists. CAIR, through initiatives like its fatwa on extremism, is doing its part. Will the mainstream Jewish community do the same with extremists like Emerson?
CAIR Southern California
Jews in Space
I was thrilled to see the “Jews in Space” cover and stories, two subjects near and dear to my heart (Nov. 3). I was less thrilled when I realized that every single scientist and engineer mentioned was male.
While it may not be possible for reporters to get every side of a story, the omission of female voices reinforces the idea that the hard sciences are strictly a male preserve. Yes, there are female Jewish astronomers, engineers and space scientists — a pity that their thoughts on their work and their religious feelings weren’t presented.
Dems vs. GOP
I am tired of Bill Boyarsky and others of the radical left who would foist on society judges who wish to legislate through fiat nonmainstream positions.
I am tired of advocates of eliminating Israel, whether by calling for one state, confederation or any other euphemism.I am tired of cartoonists who think if they draw anti-Republican, they are drawing Jewish.
And that’s just politics. Don’t get me started on religion. There’s sure to be something exasperating every week. Thanks, Jewish Journal.
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s ad campaign has appropriated my words (which are solely mine and don’t necessarily represent the views of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles) to advance an agenda quite the opposite of my own.
I emphatically do not advocate that Jews abandon the Democratic Party. Jews who are concerned about Israel’s welfare must redouble their commitment to the Democratic Party to combat the influence of the ill-liberal left and maintain the party’s historic support of Israel.
Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles
Which “dumb Jew” thought up the cover story for Oct. 20 titled, “Dumb Jews”? Horrible! Perhaps they will put Jesus’ picture in a December issue.
Ed. Note: An artist’s rendering of Jesus appeared on the cover of our Feb. 20, 2004 issue.
As stated in “Feathers Fly” (Sept. 29), the chicken roaming Pico-Robertson before Yom Kippur was neither the property nor the responsibility of Pico Kosher Deli.
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L.A. Times violates journalistic ethics in Anaheim City Council election coverage
Normally, a race for a seat on Anaheim’s City Council garners little attention beyond Anaheim. But this year, one candidate is drawing some outside attention.
Bill Dalati, a Syrian-born insurance agent, is running for a spot on Anaheim’s City Council. His candidacy has come under scrutiny because of his association with a controversial organization with known links to the Hamas terror group and his participation at a virulently anti-Israel rally this past summer.
But the Los Angeles Times has been singularly trying to portray the criticism of Dalati, made by Republican Shawn Steel, as racist and unsubstantiated.
On July 29 of this year, during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was set off by Hezbollah’s July 12 cross-border raid and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Dalati attended an anti-Israel rally in Anaheim. In its coverage of the City Council race, the Associated Press reported that Dalati referred to the event merely as an “anti-war rally.” And the L.A. Times reported on Oct. 9 that Dalati “defended his association with the rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict,” quoting him as saying, “I’m not against Jews or Christians … I don’t support Hezbollah. I just don’t believe wars solve any issues; love does.”
But the situation is not nearly as innocuous as the L.A. Times and Associated Press would have one believe. The Anaheim protest was about anything but “love.” The rally was not merely “anti-war” and the attendees were not merely “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.” The event in question was billed by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the sponsors of the demonstration, as a “Rally Against U.S.-Israeli Terror in Palestine & Lebanon,” hardly a neutral, let alone credible “anti-war” sentiment.
Although the rally drew little mainstream media attention, what little coverage there was whitewashed the content of the demonstration, giving cover for the AP, the L.A. Times and Dalati himself to downplay the nature of the event.
Fortunately, a participant at the rally created a slideshow of the demonstration, posted on YouTube, which shows various demonstrators carrying such signs as “Israel Likes Killing Kids,” “Killing Kids Is Not Self Defense” and “End the U.S.-Israeli War,” as well as the more typical signs seen at various anti-Israel protests, such as “Stop Israeli War Crimes” and “$134 Billion US Taxes To Israel — Enough.”
Whatever one thinks of American foreign policy and support for Israel, the July rally cannot be fairly described either as simply “anti-war” or just “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”
There were no signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s actions — the capture of Israeli soldiers — which started the war, nor were there any signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns with Katusha rockets (packed with scrap metal and ball bearings to cause as much damage to humans as possible), nor any condemnation of Hezbollah’s use of civilians as human shields in Lebanon. There were no signs indicating any disapproval of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants and no calls for Hamas — now the majority in the Palestinian government — to moderate its stance rejecting the existence of Israel to help pave the way for peace.
Yet, the L.A. Times again came to the defense of Dalati on Oct. 13, in falsely describing this rally in evenhanded terms as a “rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”
In the original story on Dalati, the L.A. Times also refers to Dalati’s support of and association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describing the organization as it often describes itself: “the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country” and stating uncritically that CAIR is “largely viewed as a mainstream organization.” In the second L.A. Times story, the newspaper drops any pretension of reportorial objectivity in its embrace of CAIR: “The largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, CAIR is widely viewed as mainstream and helps the FBI in combating terrorism.”
While CAIR may call itself the “largest Muslim civil rights group” in America, the Times completely ignores CAIR’s well-documented history of extremism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, as well as its origins in a now-defunct group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization that was a losing defendant in a $156 million civil judgment related to the Hamas murder of an American citizen. In the case, the judge noted that there is “evidence that IAP provided material support to Hamas.”
Similarly, during a 1994 speech at Florida’s Barry University, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” Awad was the public relations director of IAP before founding CAIR.
And this is what Awad said six years later, on Oct. 28, 2000, in a Washington, D.C., anti-Israeli rally: “Brothers and sisters, we are at least 8 million people, but there are 265 million people in this country who have been deceived, who have been misinformed, who have been intimidated by a small group of people who have been hijacking the political process.”
Additionally, several CAIR officials have been convicted on terrorist-related charges. One of them, Randall “Ismail” Royer, CAIR’s former communications specialist, trained to fight with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization, against Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Royer pled guilty to weapons and explosives charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the notorious “Virginia jihad” case.
A founding board member of CAIR-Texas, Ghassan Elashi, is in even greater legal trouble than Royer. Elashi was convicted on a variety of charges in July 2004, including violating the Libyan Sanctions Regulations, and he was found guilty in April 2005 of a Hamas-related money laundering conspiracy, handling money of top Hamas official, the Damascus-based Musa Abu Marzook. Elashi is awaiting his sentencing for both convictions (Elashi’s brother, Bayan, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 11, 2006, for his role in laundering money for Hamas). And Ghassan Elashi is still awaiting another trial, slated to begin in 2007, for his leadership role in the Hamas-linked “charity,” the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based organization shut down in 2001 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.
CAIR has defended Marzook, participating in his legal defense fund when he was arrested in the United States, as well as including his arrest in its annual catalog of hate crimes against Muslims. CAIR’s defense of, and links to, anti-Semitic individuals is also unfortunate and extensive.
Hier, Pope Talk at Vatican
During a private audience at the Vatican, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Pope Benedict XVI last week to lead a “coalition of the good” against international terrorism and threats from Iran.
The pope did not respond directly to the plea by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Center’s founding dean, but asserted that “Christians and Jews can do much to enable coming generations to live in harmony and respect.”
He also expressed the hope that “this century will see our world emerge from the web of conflict and violence, and sow the seeds of for a future of reconciliation, justice and peace,” according to the Vatican news service.
For his part, Hier said in a phone call from Rome, “It is my belief, that the pontiff will make his mark in standing up to terrorism. I am also certain that he wants to strengthen relations with the Jewish people.”
The delegation included 40 trustees and other lay leaders of the Wiesenthal Center from across the United States, and the pope made a point to speak to each individually. He also blessed rosary beads brought by some delegates for Catholic friends back home. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Weiss Fine Lowered
The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has lowered a fine against City Councilman Jack Weiss from $25,200 to $4,800 for violations during his 2001 campaign for the Fifth District council seat.
Weiss whose Westside district stretches from Pico-Robertson to Sherman Oaks, appealed the larger fine, which led to a non-binding independent review. Administrative Law Judge Timothy Thomas wrote that the size of the original penalty would do, “little public good,” and that it could not be proven that Weiss intended to deceive voters.
Weiss’ campaign had failed to file numerous campaign mailers with the commission and failed to report some campaign expenses, the commission said.
The four-member panel voted 3-1 this month for the lowered fine, with the dissenting vote from commission member and retired Los Angeles Times journalist Bill Boyarsky.
“I thought that it was a serious offense,” said Boyarsky, who’s also a contributing columnist to The Journal. “The purpose of the law is to create a central file where anyone can see these mailers before the election. And not filing them is a violation of an important law.”
Also speaking against the lowered fines was retired state senator Tom Hayden, whom Weiss defeated in that campaign by 359 votes.
Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Grants Help ‘Food Insecure’
The Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON is distributing more than $266,000 in grants to 28 hunger relief agencies throughout California to combat what MAZON officials call, “food insecure households.”
MAZON’s fall grant cycle comes in the wake of the West Los Angeles-based group’s extensive work with Hurricane Katrina relief agencies. The hurricane effort led to a rise in donations targeted for hurricane victims. But MAZON’s latest grants focus on pressing needs in this state.
“People give to MAZON because they realize that hunger is a major problem facing children and adults across this country,” said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, the MAZON board vice-chair and leader of University Synagogue in Irvine.
“The problem is getting worse rather than better as the safety next for the poor gets shredded,” Rachlis said. “And people understand that children can’t learn in school if they can’t have breakfast.”
Grant recipients include Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles and Northern California’s Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center ($5,000 each); the St. Joseph Center food bank in Venice ($15,000); the Westside Food Bank ($8,000). The legal aid group Public Counsel received $22,000 for its homelessness-prevention project, and the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness received $16,000. — DF
Temple Speaker Angers Muslims
A local Islamic activist group has complained about a controversial Yom Kippur speaker at the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.
The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has objected to the temple hosting author Robert Spencer, author of the nonfiction bestseller “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)” (Regnery, 2005).
Spencer was one of three afternoon speakers who followed the main Yom Kippur speech by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the old Wilshire Theater, which the temple bought and is converting to its permanent home.
A Nov. 8 CAIR press release focused not on Spencer’s speech but his Web site, www.jihadwatch.org, and comments on that site’s unmonitored forums, which were not made by Spencer.
Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron defended the invitation.
“We do tend to bring in controversial authors to discuss their findings,” Baron said. “Nowhere did he ever call to … kill or harm or maim any Muslim. I never would allow that. Our intent was to take an honest, sober look at extremist elements that need to be marginalized.”
But Spencer’s mere presence at Baron’s synagogue condoned “Islamophobia,” said Hussam Ayloush, CAIR’s Anaheim-based regional executive director: “It’s almost like, how would the Jewish community [react] if a mosque invites David Duke to come and talk about Judaism?”
Baron, in turn, said he was surprised that the CAIR Web site had not posted any condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent comment that Israel ought to be “wiped off the map.”
“I find that very troubling,” said Baron, who added that he is willing to host a Muslim speaker.
Ayloush told The Journal that the comments of the Iranian president were “not acceptable,” but he also criticized Baron for linking the issues, saying, “That is a lame excuse.” — DF
Hate Crime Stats Not Always Precise
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) new report titled, "Unpatriotic Acts," warns that acts of hate against Muslims in the United States skyrocketed in 2003. At face value, the numbers are grim: CAIR notes a 70 percent increase in "reports of harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment" against Muslims in the United States between 2002 (602 acts) and 2003 (1,019 acts). That also represents a 300 percent increase between the years 2000 and 2003.
Those numbers, however, do not entirely speak for themselves. Tracking hate is a complex process; statistics may be influenced by outside variables. That’s especially true since the CAIR report also includes noncriminal acts of discrimination, sometimes called "hate incidents." CAIR is not alone in using this methodology: Some groups tracking anti-Semitism do the exact same thing.
For example, to reach the number 1,019, CAIR lumped the 91 recorded violent or property hate crimes against Muslims in 2003 (e.g. assault, vandalism) with all other manner of reported bigotry, some more serious than others. This sort of noncriminal hate can take the form of religious profiling, discriminatory application of the law or denial of services.
CAIR, however, notes that even these nonviolent cases could conceivably be brought before a court of law.
"A lot of those incidents are actionable, although they’re not violent criminal acts," Mohammed Nimer, director of research at CAIR, told The Journal.
On the other hand, in cases that are never prosecuted by the authorities, there may be no police reports, medical records or witnesses to corroborate the claims or measure their severity.
"When I look at the cases, if the allegation has the ‘what, when, where, why and how,’ and the information is specific, I would include it," said Nimer about the report. "The rejection rate [was] between 40 percent and 60 percent."
While many of the criminal offenses in "Unpatriotic Acts" are obviously eggregious, the criteria used to measure other incidents are less clear. For example, "Unpatriotic Acts" includes this record: "On Jan. 1, an unknown man confronted a Muslim couple at [a] shopping center in … Maryland and asked them whether they were planting a bomb in the area."
"I think that once you move beyond what constitutes a hate crime according to the law, it’s a pretty vast universe that you’re trying to measure," said Marshall Wong, hate crime coordinator for the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, which also publishes a report on hate crime statistics.
"There must be a consistent measure against which [noncriminal] complaints are set," said David Lehrer of Community Advocates, Inc., a local civil rights group. "Depending on the headlines of the day, and what the mood of the public is, you may get a whole variety of complaints, and 90 percent of them may have no merit whatsoever. There has to be some rigor [in order] to determine whether there is any veracity to the charges that have been made."
Like CAIR, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also reports hate incidents, despite the difficulties.
"We keep track [of hate incidents] to suggest trends, but we are fully aware that the final results of such a report can be impacted by factors that are not scientific, like the reporting," said Amanda Susskind, regional director of the ADL. Susskind noted that an appalling crime or other event can shock a community into realizing the importance of reporting, and they may flood the phone lines, indicating a spike in discrimination incidents.
That same amount of bigotry, however, may have simply gone unreported in the community for years. Wong cited an example of this in the massive spike of reported hate crimes against gay men in September and October of 2002.
"It coincided [with] a very highly publicized attack on a West Hollywood resident that occurred on Sept. 1, 2002, so it’s highly likely that during that period of time, gay men who were victimized felt an obligation to report [it] in larger numbers," he said.
Nimer acknowledges those inherent variables: "That’s very hard to control. [The number of] CAIR offices have increased tremendously since Sept. 11, and may have contributed to community-wide reporting."
Hate crime numbers, compared to hate incident numbers, may be slightly less susceptible to these reporting variables since the government can prosecute and record the underlying crime before the hate-fueled motivation is alleged.
When hate crime numbers are separated from all the noncriminal reports in "Unpatriotic Acts," CAIR’s study reveals that only 49 more anti-Muslim hate crimes occurred in 2003 than 2002 in the entire United States (91 crimes, up from 42).
Nimer emphasized the solidity of that measured increase: "Even before CAIR became an organization with 25 offices, most of those [violent crimes] were very well documented, so you cannot say the CAIR report indicates more hate crime because CAIR is more capable of recording [it]."
On the other hand, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer released a report on July 8 detailing an approximately 10 percent decrease in statewide hate crimes in 2003. Though no data on crimes against Muslims in specific was noted, the category of crimes called "Anti-Other Ethnicity/National Origin," which includes crimes against Arab or Middle Eastern people, decreased by 19 percent since 2002 (199 to 161). According to that report, blacks and homosexuals are the No.1 and No. 2 targeted groups in California, respectively.
But, in one final layer of complexity, Wong also noted that even hate crime reporting has built-in flaws: "Some law enforcement agencies in entire cities are not aggressively pursuing investigations with hatred as a motivation," he said. "You may in fact see that those jurisdictions labeled as hotbeds of hate crime activity, because they report larger numbers, may simply be doing their jobs better."
"Those are all variables," he said. "That’s why we have to be very careful about what we read into the numbers."
Opera Collaboration Continues to2005
The New Israeli Opera of Tel Aviv and the Los Angeles Opera will extend their ongoing collaboration with a production of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila” during the 2005 season.
Academy Award-winning film director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) will direct the opera, which will premiere at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center in June, and in Los Angeles in October.
Placido Domingo, general director of the L.A. Opera, will sing the role of Samson in Los Angeles for one night only, to mark the company’s 20th anniversary season.
Another well-known movie figure, actor Maximilian Schell, will direct the production of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” due in Los Angeles in May 2005 and in Tel Aviv the following year. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Muslims Ally With Christians in Ads
The large advertisement in five California weekly newspapers has a photo of Jerusalem’s Old City, showing a Christian cross in the foreground, fronting a nearby mosque.
Its headline is, “More in Common Than You Think,” and the text proclaims Islam’s reverence of Jesus, ending in the paragraph: “Like Christians, every day, over 1.3 billion Muslims strive to live by his [Jesus’] teachings of love, peace, and forgiveness. Those teachings, which have become universal values, remind us that all of us, Christians, Muslims, Jews and all others have more in common than we think.”
The ad is part of a long-term campaign, launched after Sept. 11 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to correct “misconceptions” about Islam and present a kinder, gentler image of American Muslims.
Future ads may well cite the Quran’s respect and reverence for Abraham and Moses, to show Islam’s kinship to Jews, said Sabiha Khan, communications director for CAIR’s Southern California chapter, which initiated the current Jesus ad.
CAIR, which describes itself as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group,” is headquartered in Washington and has 25 regional chapters in the United States and Canada.
Its national spokeswoman, Rabiah Ahmed, speaks of CAIR as a “Muslim NAACP,” referring to the African American civil rights organization.
Founded in 1994, CAIR’s declared purpose is “to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America and to empower the Muslim community through political and social activism.” Critics have charged that this benign mission statement hides more militant attitudes and policies.
But according to Ahmed, “the American media now generally presents a negative picture of Muslims and we are trying hard to correct the misconceptions.”
CAIR’s ad campaign, which up to now has appeared mainly in the New York Times, runs under the overall motto, “We are Americans and we are Muslims.”
Its skillfully produced ads generally feature attractive young Muslims, of different ethnic backgrounds, contributing to American society as Girl Scouts, nurses, teachers and parents.
“We have received very positive feedback, but we still have much work ahead of us,” Ahmed said.
The current ad, appealing directly to Christians, owes some of its inspiration to the popularity of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and has been limited so far to five small weeklies in Burbank, Claremont, Anaheim, Irvine and Sunnyvale.
Amanda Susskind, Southern California director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she had not received any comments about the ad so far.
CAIR enjoys a generally respectable reputation and its leaders have been invited to the Bush White House and have testified before Congress.
However, CAIR’s aura of moderation has been sharply questioned by critics, who say that the organization has consistently defended Islamic terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.
CAIR’s particular bete noire is Dr. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and author of four books on Islam.
In numerous articles and lectures, Pipes has charged that CAIR has regularly promoted anti-Semitism, intimidated moderate Muslims and served as apologist for extremists.
In return, CAIR bitterly fought Pipes’ appointment by President Bush to the federally funded U.S. Institute of Peace, but lost its battle. — TT
Amid the profusion of billboards along Southern California freeways, motorists are being startled by a new one. It features seven smiling faces of various ethnicities, with one, a woman wearing a black headscarf, holding a small American flag.
Underneath, in bold letters, are the words, "Even a smile is Charity — a message from your Muslim neighbor." The sponsor of the soft-sell ad is the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the billboards are indicative of its increasing sophistication in presenting the benign and nonthreatening face of Islam.
The cost of each billboard rental ranges from $5,000 to $8,000 per month, and so far, only three carry the "smile" message. One is located near LAX and the other two are in Orange County.
But if they are deemed effective, similar signs are planned for other American cities, said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in Washington.
The concept was developed by the Southern California chapter of CAIR, whose public relations coordinator, Sabiha Khan, said the slogan was based on a saying by the Prophet Muhammad, "Your smile for your brother is charity." Different positive messages will be posted each month, she said.
The higher profile comes even as CAIR weathers criticisms that it has served as a platform for people and groups that support terror against Israeli citizens. CAIR denies the charges — and keeps smiling.
Over the past year, and especially since Sept. 11, CAIR has evolved into an effective voice of the Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. Taking a leaf from Jewish defense organizations, any real or perceived slur or discriminatory act against a Muslim is instantly met with protests and barrages of news releases to the media.